Category: Wines and Preserves

A Weekend of Epic (by )

This bank holiday has been amazing. Below is a picture of our haul and that is not all of it!

This weekends haul

For me it kind of began on Friday with a trip to UWE to see a friends talk on memristors (resistors with memory!) and then staying on for her leaving bash at a beer and cider festival - I had a Toffee Apple cider followed by a meal in a chinese place. Then we got up early Saturday and prepared stuff to go to the allotment but first there was Free Comic Book Day at Proud Lion in Cheltenham.

We arrived about 15 minutes before the shop opened which turned out to be a good thing as people were beginning to queue! We were ninth into the shop though and Jean knew instantly what she wanted - I was startled to see her pick up a hello kitty comic until she announced, 'it's not for me! It's for Mary.' She didn't take one of everything like she did last year which was interesting, she also got a hobbit poster and I got an XMEN badge.

I also got two pints and me and Al got a selection of comics like 2000 AD. I got to say hi to the people who are running the comic book convention I am launching the first Punk comic next year and I also bought Death by Neil Gaiman.

Mary's first comic

The girls couldn't wait to start reading and Jeany was moaning that I was taking too long in the shop! Mary I don't think gets the story form of comics - she just spent the whole time excitedly announcing there were lots of Hello Kitty's 🙂

Jean and MAry enjoying their stash from Proud Lion for Free Comic Book Day

We then nipped to the allotment and did two hours of weeding - discovering that the bit of the plot that we had planted the runner beans on was again cursed and they were all gone. We have decided that it is obviously a cursed bit of land and we will be putting a bench there in future. We also found that the stuff the farmer had sprayed for us to try and get the dandilions under control had killed the grass but not the dandilions!

killed the grass but not the dandilions

I deflowered all the dandilions in our plot and then dug up a small bin bag full of plants, roots and all. The flowers I have dried and the plants the rabbit and chickens have been working their way through.

We popped home to drop off allotment stuff and pick up my new camera (as seen in the first photo), this has been an amazing discovery and I am not yet sure how I am going to share it with you! It is a 3D camera and reduced to less than my standard camera was. I decided to invest in it as they were over £400 to begin with. I think there may have to be an exhibition or something maybe with my friend who showed me her one in the first place.

Then it was off to Bristol to catch the food fair/festival 🙂 We came away with waxed cheese and chocolate coated coffee beans. Queuing for food was a bit of a nightmare though!

Al, Olly and Mary at Food Festival Bristol

Mary decided she was Hermione out of Harry Potter and found herself a stick which she waved shouting the levitation spell - it seems to have worked!

Mary casting a floating spell

Then we nipped to Costco and picked up some cling film and bits that we like to get in bulk and headed home to have a TV dinner of Lord of the Rings 🙂

On Sunday we got up and packed a cooler box, a wicker basket and the pic nic ruck sack and headed back out the door to the allotment. Where we spent all day from just after ten! The guy who likes to go there in the morning and the evening was well impressed 🙂 Of course I got sunburnt though Al and the kids didn't.

Mary's undergrowth nest

We both had to have lots of breaks and Jean and Mary helped a bit.

Mary helping Daddy at the allotment

Jean beheaded all the newly flowering dandilions and cut a bag of lemon balm for me - along with pretending to eat the spring onions and actually trying to eat the asparagus! She also watered everything.

Jean threatening to eat the spring onions we'd just dug up

I dug out and chopped down weeds - I filled four large buckets of the things - this is the bucket that carries all our wellys and smaller tools! I also cut a bag full of lemon balm down and produced a good but not full bag of dandelions for the the rabbit et al. Alaric spent his time digging over a new bit of ground then hoeing it and then raking it. Between me, Al and Jeany we then planted carrots and parsnips in one half of the newly prepared section.

Alaric and the hoe

The hoe is called Katy and she is dutch 😉

We had an epic picnic and also went over to Primrose Vale for an ice cream and coffee whilst the girls played on the toys - I'm a cheap skate so I had a flask of decaf coffee. I also had a herbal tea made from lemon balm with me that I sat on the tyre at the end of the allotment and drank whilst reading my book, waiting for my pelvis to be ok again to do more stuff.

Jean spent a huge chunk of her time reading two books and Mary made a den in the hedge row 🙂 Al used up his phone battery in his breaks - the pacing worked well and we got a load of stuff done!

I also found some epic shrooms to photo (bigger versions will be appearing on Orange Monster and Photo Salaric).

Shrooms! mushroom reaching for the sky Fungus Mushrooms Epic mushrooms grown on bark pile

Monday was our day off, so I processed some photos and planted out most of my tomotoe pants in pots in the garden. Al fixed the door in the girls room and Mary's little chair and did computer stuff. The girls played in the garden and board games, Jeany played Stratego with Al and then they watched films whilst I napped (me and Al were pretty achy!).

The I went off to take part in a lovely improv workshop run by Joy-Amy - you could tell I was involved as there were Romans, babs and bird eating spiders, there were also deranged hair dressers and moons being caught!

We finished the weekend off with a pear cider and some minecraft 🙂

A Jam Full Cupboard (by )

cupboard of preserves

Last year I foraged and grew stuff and was given apples and green tomatoes and so on and I even bought reduced pumpkins after Halloween (which we are still getting through!). I made pies and crumbles and cooked soups, I even made bramble butter for the first time.

And there was still left over food... so me and Al preserved stuff!

We now have a cupboard full of chutney, jams, crystallised and pickled things! We didn't get the drying rack up in time to dry things but that is now in place.

I also now have an empty freezer which I am to fill up with cakes over and fresh produce over the year.

Chickens are laying a stupid number of eggs at the moment so we are selling a couple of boxes a week 🙂

This sort of stuff makes me happy - once I am better I plan to sort out the wine making stuff so I get crack on with that over the coming year.

Also we gave a load of preserves away at Christmas and we were eating them through out the year as well 🙂 Though I did swap some with a friend for different jams and with the neighbours for their cherry syrup!

Bamble Butter or Cheese! (by )

Bramble Cheese

Autumn is here as is harvest time and so when ever possible I have been out foraging! I have already made two batches of chutney, crumbles and cakes and sauces with the various fruit and veg so I thought I would try something different this year before heading down the jam and wine making path again.

I found some old recipes for butters/cheeses and thought I'd give it a go - there is no dairy in these but they either spread like a curd or you can cut them like cheeses and the names pre-date the modern terms which have a narrower meaning.

Basically it is just a butt load of blackberries and crab apples cooked until mushy, pushed through a sieve, the puree is then put in a pan with lots of sugar and reheated and stirred like making fudge - I was aiming for a cheese but my arm started to spasm so I had to give up but I'd already gone paste the butter consistency. I was really pleased it kept it's shape when removed from the mould!

Interestingly I discovered that depending on the age of the book there is a huge variance on how long such a thing will keep - 2 or 3 months in the newest book, 2 years in ones from before 1985 and indefinatly but will become more crystalline the older it gets in my older early last century and victorian cook books. We plan to just see what happens with it as it is going to take some time to get through!

Next step with this stuff I think is going to be a) seeing if adding some condenced milk turns it into a lovely fruit fudge and b) if I get even more fruit to reduce down can I make it without adding sugar? Lastly c) make it with lots of other fruits 🙂

The Best of Berries (by )


That awkward moment when someone takes a photo of you picking berries along the foot path to town and you realise OMG! I've turned into a hippy! I'm not even just picking black berries but ones people give you funny looks over as they think they are poisonous (which they are if you don't cook them!). My top was not quiet tie dye but near enough and my baby had no trousers on whilst my eldest skipped about in a hand painted t-shirt - yep I'm one of those mums - also urban blackberrying - BEWARE THE CYCLISTS!

This was a post I put on facebook and some interesting things came out of it - for a start I had to qualify that I meant the Rowan berries as toxic unless cooked. But they are not very toxic as in it is something that builds up over time and can sometimes lead to liver (or maybe kidney failure) from what I've read. Anyway the chemical is broken down by temperature extremes so that is freezing and cooking. Which is why the old country lore is that you don't pick until after the first frost.

And the classic argument over elder berries and weather they are poisonous. Main issue being that ripe berries aren't but they have to be really ripe and that they just aren't very toxic again though the leaves and stems are. Again cooking brakes down the cyanid within (it is also in apple pips and various other things) - some people have developed a tolerance from eating them as a kid etc...

Then I was asked what I thought of berrying along busy roads - which is an interesting one - this was my response.

Ok when the petrol was all lead based it was a big problem but now it should be ok - some of the ones (berries I'd picked) today were from road sides - it helps that my friends did the soil surveys a few years back - only thing I would say is that they shouldn't be eaten directly from the bush still if from heavy roadsides as there will be dust on them but a quick wash should sort that out. (However be aware this is my opinion and I haven't seen any data for years).

Also unless you have a map of the UK with metal ions on it etc... you are going to struggle to know what is safe where anyway - there are areas of Wales for a start where heavy metals weather out of the soil and plants there should be avoided for human consumption - add in illegal human refuse dumps and so on... Somewhere may seem nice a pleasant - even have farm crops growing on it and really not be good at all.

But the risks are minimal anyway as it is build up that's the issue wand everyone eats from a wide variety of places these days.

Having said all this people swapped recipes for things, and then I found out that haw stones contain cyanid - but again the cooking will brake this down - but this lead me to think about the confusing wealth of info out there on edible plants etc... I have not found an actually study of this specifically to tell the public the exact risks of things - for a start a table of how much cyanid is on average in various foods and compares say free food to stuff like apples and almonds etc... Also people seem confused by cyanid groups verses cyanid itself which react very differently - if we cut everything with the groups in out of our diet we would quickly starve (if I remember my A'level chemistry correctly).

Also I have been freely dispensing information about blackberries to people who enquire whilst I am out and about and often on of a group will be really taken with the idea whilst another will have apoplexy about them being dirty etc... There is very little in the way of public knowledge about this stuff - have any tests actually ever been done I wonder? How dirty is a blackberry straight from the briar and what do the soil test etc... mean around the road sides.

In the wake of Jamie Olivers comments about food and poverty and people being silly for not knowing - it would make sense to have an education program, healthy eating reduces costs to the NHS and benefits etc... it is a long term thing. People are scared of food they haven't grown up with or don't want to squander tight budgets on culinary experiments that might go wrong or really just can't get the fresh fruit and veg from the shops but also do not feel safe or confident in going out and finding their own in case they poison their family - these are reasonable fears and so easily addressed.

Jamie has always had a big head but he's also got a big heart and has done a hell of a lot with the school dinners and stuff (I think he just needs to stop and have a little think again over what he is saying and step into others shoes for a bit), but you know he really shouldn't have too - we should have a Ministry of Food anyway :/

So if I was in charge what would I do?

Well I would have all school children out on wilderness trails learning identification of edibles or more importantly poisonous plants. I would have fruit trees planted along verges and in parks - I would get tests done to see exactly what impact traffic fumes etc have and if the levels of harmful things are too high I would look at traffic regulations and find ways to reduce those. I would have cook-ups at community centres and places so that people can come along and learn to cook for free etc...

I would have a government leaflet/website that told you all about were it legal to forage (in clear terms) and the risks set out (this is the risks not just the hazards) but I would include the same for processed and main stream farming foods. I would initiate more allotments and community orchards and let the public know the things exist!

Schools are starting to grow veg and stuff thanks to the super markets and there has been an upsurge in general homestedding activities but they are being seen as a very middle class thing as they tend to be the ones with the time and spare resources to plough into learning about these things. I am finding it very frustrating trying to get hold of an allotment and to be frank most of our shopping bill is fruit and veg and that is just wrong! It is stupid that processed foods cost more than fruit and veg fresh from the field/vine.

As one of my friends posted on FB recently - growing your own food has become a middle class want rather than a working class need - but the problem there is that it is really still a need for EVERYBODY regardless of income or age. I've been reading up on things like depression, stress, learning difficulties etc... all being helped by... well nature - yes I know it all sounds hippy but these are medical studies etc... I think it would need a lot of work though - most of those being pushed into poverty at the moment are households were both parents work (I know surprising isn't it?) and therefore they are not going to want the extra stress/time restraint on already tiring lives - but maybe allotment sharing could come into place or something like that.

You also need to make sure people know they can join these things and that they are not exclusive schemes - I remember some of the allotments near were we grew up were very particular about who they let on to the site etc...

I hear that high end offices in London are now installing gardens on their roofs were people can grown veg and even keep bees. I have hope and I am enjoying my blackberrying - I've received one jar of jam from a friend and the neighbour nabbed me yesterday to shyly ask if I would like some of her 'bramble' jam once it was cool.

The End of the Festive Season (by )

Today we had our last Christmas visitor, Barbara, so I put out the minced pies and cut up Christmas Cake and we apologised as we seem to have lost her tea towel with Mary's print on it that we were going to give her - so we gave her same homemade jam instead.

She gave Mary some lovely Hello Kitty wellies which is brilliant as it was starting to be a squeeze to get her into the ones she has and the previous bigger set she lost one of whilst we were out shopping one day. Jean got an art casse which she was excited about and Al got cheese which is always a hit with him. I got a pot of tulips which shall be going outside the front door.

Jean also tidied the front garden, litter picking the litter that blows in and sweeping up the leaves - mainly as she is whipping through her worst witch books and wants to earn money to buy the missing ones.

There would be photos of today but unfortunately Jean was taking photos yesterday and dropped it and today it has gone completely screwy 🙁 It was on it's way out anyway which is why I had saved up money to get a good one but I spent it on the TV so that we could use the X-Box, I do not regret this but I do now find myself with out a camera - right at the point where I am trying to launch myself back into things seriously - sigh.

On the other hand I do have a rather serious back log of photos to sort out anyway so maybe this will give me time to do that?

After Al's aunt left we started taking down all the decorations to general chagrin of the kids - Mary was walking about saying 'Oh! No!' whilst Jean was whining that the room was starting to look so bare which we felt too. Somehow Christmas went so fast this year.

It has been a fun one though.

Of course tomorrow I have one of my best friends from school visiting in a sort of post-Christmas/pre-birthday type of way which is going to be ace!

And last night I forgot to go to the pub with one of my local friends which I feel really bad about - It wasn't a good day medically for me but still...

Anyway the good thing about the decorations coming down is that I am in the mood for Spring Cleaning to be honest. We started today with putting hooks up to hang various house type things up, such as sun catchers and wall art butterflies and the broom and duster and carrier bag suasage.

Today also marks the constructed language Lojban's 25th Birthday - this is the language that Alaric has been learning for the past few years and that he has been teaching to Mary. So we have begun work on a little language comic type thing - we came up with the idea ages ago but haven't had the time to act upon it!

Apart from that we made bread in the bread maker and made our own sauce for the chickpea hodge podge we had for dinner - January is already a month of highs and lows but net effect seems to be positive at the moment.

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